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Fish, Fish, Everywhere a Fish!

By Mike Hellweg

I’ll bet you can imagine that as this contest progresses Ted and I occasionally run out of room.  Ted mentioned in an earlier blog entry how he addresses this.  Well, with more than 70 tanks dedicated to this contest and with a bumpy start, I hadn’t yet really run into this problem until a few weeks ago.  Now that my breeding program is chugging away, tanks are filling up quickly.  Plus, before the contest started  I had decided to switch out most of my commercial sponge filters for home-made, wall-type sponge filters, so at any one time I’ve got a few tanks out of commission as I make the switch.

Long-term, this will be a great benefit to the fish, as each filter provides much more surface area for beneficial bacteria, and with the filter taking up an entire wall, there are no spots for the fish to hide behind as there are with conventional sponge filters, making moving fish much easier.  Short term, this switch can tie up some much needed glass box real estate while the filter gets up and running.  As I set up the “new” tanks, I keep the bioload low for a few weeks, add extra plants, and seed the new filter with “squeeze-ins” from my old filters.  So far this strategy is working pretty well.

I don’t have problems with the scatterers and other similar fish because I don’t set them up to spawn until there is a tank available.  But what I do find is that as more than 25 pairs of cichlids, some dozen or so livebearers, and a half dozen or so mouthbrooding anabantoids keep spawning on a somewhat unpredictable basis, to keep new fry from being eaten by the parents I occasionally have to find room for the fry for a week or so until another tank opens up.  The leftover filter material from cutting the wall filters gave me an idea.

I have found that disposable lasagna containers are almost ideal fry tanks for newly free swimming fry.  They give the fry plenty of surface area, and give them a bit of room to spread out.  But there isn’t too much room in there so the fry don’t have to go too far to hunt down their food.  The containers are inexpensive, so I can always have extras on hand.  They are also lightweight and easy to move, so I can do a water change on all of them every day in just a few minutes.   But there is no commercial filter designed to handle small tanks like this, and even with only a dozen or two fry, I like to have filters in these small tanks as water quality can change quickly.  Some of the killie guys are making tiny filters out of PVC tees and filter floss.  This provided inspiration for my mini-filters, made of half inch CPVC pipe and fittings and some leftover material from the wall filters.  This little device gives the fry a safe place to grow for a week or so until I can move them to a tank.  If necessary, they work well for a couple of weeks.  I add a dozen or so daphnia, a couple of ramshorn snails, and a clump of Java moss to each lasagna container, too.

Posted April 30th, 2010.

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Cichlids

By Mike Hellweg

The past several weeks have been pretty hectic with two speaking trips and several club auctions here in the Midwest, not to mention a visit to my local club (the Missouri Aquarium Society, Inc. – aka MASI) by TFH Editor David Boruchowitz.  All of this fishy stuff, along with a LOT of spawning activity and changing over sponge filters in my fishroom, kept me pretty busy.  Time slipped away, and I realized I hadn’t posted a blog in quite a while.  I apologize!

As I mentioned last entry, I spent some time trading fish and visiting local big box stores and independent fish stores, and I came home with a nice haul.  Unfortunately, as can sometimes be expected in the dead of winter, some of those fish were cold stressed and came down with ich.  Placing fish into quarantine helped and within a week or so I was back to concentrating on breeding the new fish.

I went back to my roots in the hobby—some of the miniature scatterers like zebra, leopard, and pearl danios, white clouds, and some easy tetras like emperors, rainbow emperors, black skirt, and diamond tetras just to name a few.  I had forgotten how much fun it can be to have a tank full of miniature zebras darting every which way and attacking the food every time I fed them!  White clouds are one of my all time favorite fish, and it’s been a while since I had them.  I now have a 10-gallon colony tank full of them.  It may sound strange to some of you, but some of the most pleasurable fish are also some of the easiest to care for and breed.

Ever since my beloved pet lungfish took a chunk out of my hand, I have not kept any fish larger than 4 inches, and the vast majority have been under 2 inches.  This was also practical, since for many years my fishroom was in a spare bedroom and the floor couldn’t take a lot of weight, so in order to have several tanks they had to be small.  This became my trademark— miniature odd balls.

I mention this because I deviated from this longtime philosophy for a few weeks.  A friend brought several pairs of medium sized cichlids over and they reminded me once again why I keep miniature fish.  So I have to thank him, in a way, for reminding me of my real interest.  The Texas cichlids spawned quickly and repeatedly.  They are incredibly beautiful fish, but also incredibly aggressive by my standards.  The West African Stomatepia mariae spawned and then went on a killing spree.   The larger male Lake Victorian haps (Matumbi hunters) “went cichlid” on each other and all of the other haps in their tank.   Everything was fine in this tank.  A female was holding, so I gently removed her in a clear glass bowl to give her some peace and quiet in her own tank to brood for a few days before stripping the eggs.  Overnight, the big male decided that he didn’t like something.  Not sure what.

I’ve still got one tank of seven 9-inch Oreochromis niloticus, but as soon as they spawn, they will move on to another friend in our club who loves fish like this and has much more room for them.  Right now they are happily eating everything I feed them in a 75-gallon tank, and each fish has grown at least an inch since I got the group about four weeks ago.  I hope they spawn soon!  I was amazed by these fish.  They are beautiful, very outgoing, and they eat EVERYTHING!  They even lift their entire head out of the water when I open the tank top to feed them.  Pretty cool, but definitely not my cup of tea.  They cleared the side and back glass of years’ worth of algae growth, cleaned out a well established blackworm population in the gravel, and even ate the Java fern and Java moss in the tank!

More next week…

Posted April 20th, 2010.

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Why do I use Poecilia wingei for Endler’s Livebearer?

By Mike Hellweg

While I have thought that Endler’s Livebearer is unique since I first received a pair from super-hobbyist Sallie Boggs in 1992, I was fine with it just being a population of P. reticulata on the edge of speciation. As there was nothing in the literature, and no such thing as the Internet as we know it today, I based this on my own side-by-side observations and the results of attempted crosses I made with both wild (from a collection on the Orinoco in central Venezuela) and domestic P. reticulata and P. picta throughout the early 1990’s.

I was as excited as all other livebearer enthusiasts when Endler’s first got a scientific name in 2005; then disappointed as most when Breden argued against Poeser’s work a couple of years later.  I read the Schores et al paper with interest, expecting them to discount P. wingei again.  But they did not.  In fact, I think (as a hobbyist!) they make a very clear case for P. wingei.

But for the sake of accuracy I must unequivocally state that I am a hobbyist, not a scientist. So I usually follow what William Eschmeyer reports in the CalAcademy Catalog of Fishes when I’m working on an article. Eschmeyer tends to be very conservative, and doesn’t jump on a new description until it has withstood peer review. In the case of P. wingei, he didn’t add that to the catalog for quite a while after the Poeser et al description in 2005. In checking the Catalog for this article, I see it’s current status (as of January 2010) is as a valid species. Based on Eschmeyer and the Schores paper, I have used P. wingei instead of P. reticulata “Endler’s” or P. sp. Endler‘s, as many hobbyists have done.

Posted February 19th, 2010.

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